GLASGOW – For all but two or three years of the Glasgow Electric Plant Board's existence, H. Jefferson Herbert Jr. was its attorney.
That ended June 30 when he retired not only as legal counsel for the municipally owned utility but from his downtown Glasgow law office in general at age 82.
Jeff Herbert, as most know him, came to Glasgow after graduation from law school in 1963 to practice law with his then-father-in-law Cecil Wilson, who was the original attorney for the plant board and was instrumental in its organization, he said. Herbert started attending the meetings as well and, after a year or two, he assumed most of the work for the utility. Although the groundwork to establish it had begun in the late 1950s, the Glasgow EPB launched in 1962.
“There were absolutely wonderful people involved in the organization of the plant board,” Herbert told the Glasgow Daily Times during an interview on his second day into retirement.
Plenty happened in the beginning to get the utility's groundwork laid – elections, condemnation lawsuits for the GEPB to take over Kentucky Utilities' assets here and a trial to determine the worth of those assets and the franchise agreement it had – that required legal expertise, and in the decades since Herbert arrived, he also has been involved with plenty.
Herbert said he thinks the amount the GEPB had to pay KU for the assets was around $1.2 million. He remembers being at a meeting in Wilson's office with a Nashville banker named Finis Nelson who arranged the financing for that, plus about $500,000 for initial operating capital.
He discussed several actions – and a prevention of one action, a piece of legislation, that became necessary.
• As general counsel for the Municipal Electric Power Association of Kentucky, he reviewed pending legislation and advised on those issues.
“I noticed one weekend ... a bill that would require any municipality which installed a cable system, cablevision system, to first acquire by condemnation any existing cable system, which would mean they couldn't go out and just start building. They would have to buy out the existing cable system, and that had already passed the Kentucky House of Representatives by 99-1 or 99-0 ...,” Herbert said. “I thought at the time we may want to get into the cable business at some time ...."
Through the association's lobbyist, they worked to get the bill killed in the Senate.
"Had it passed, we probably never would have been able to get up and going with the cable system here,” Herbert said.
• “I was paying my own bills one Sunday, and I noticed that my cable bill was pretty much in line with what my electric bill was, and there can be no comparison as to the value of the two. Clearly, electric energy is more important and more valuable to somebody than cable service, so why should you be paying as much for cable service as you are for electric energy?” he said, pointedly tapping his finger on the table. “So I checked with Billy Ray, as he mentioned the other day, to get the average residential power bill, and it wasn't a lot more than the cable bill, and Billy was interested in the cable system, too, so that's how that all started, and the board was very supportive of that. And we went through a couple of lawsuits as a result of that.”
• “A lot of people in the past have been under the impression that the electric plant board has the right to serve anybody in its, in the city limits. For a good long while, it did, originally. What would happen is, we entered into an agreement with the adjacent utility, which in our case was Farmers [Rural Electric Cooperative Corp.], so that whenever the city annexed any territory that we would have the right to acquire the service rights for that territory, but we would have to pay for it ..., so that rocked on along OK for quite a few years,” Herbert said.
Legislation passed later that said the municipal utility could not acquire those service rights. “So, as soon as these various agreements expired by their term, then the co-ops would not renew it," he said. Now, anytime the city annexes in the Farmers service area, the right to serve there remains with Farmers, he said.
Coming back to the overall picture, Herbert said he believes the utility has been and is “an essential, positive force in the community.” He named other important community features and said the Glasgow EPB and its low rates are among them.
“So I'm happy to have been a part of the electric plant board. I was happy to have been city attorney for, I think it was 18 years, when it seemed to be a lot of positive things going on then. So I've enjoyed it. I'm happy with what I've done and it is an extremely interesting area of the law. ... This touches a lot of people, so therefore, it's important,” Herbert said.
Of his hopes for the future of the utility, he said, “I would hope that they would abandon the persistent attempts to change the management of the EPB, because I think that the team that's in place down there, including the superintendent all the way down to the lowest-paying job you've got, are really tremendous people, they're devoted people and do a good job.”
For his successor as legal counsel, Ron Hampton, his advice is to read carefully the state legislation pertaining to the TVA, as well as all the cases decided under it, “and talk extensively with Billy Ray about the kind of help he needs from the board counsel and the philosophy behind the existence of the EPB.”